Africa is full of some of the most incredible creatures we've ever seen. But there are five animals that stand out from the rest and they're known as "The Big 5." In this post, we'll talk about how they came to be known as the Big 5 Africa and what makes them so special!


What are the big 5?

On an African safari, everyone wants to see the Big 5. But what exactly are the "Big 5," and why are they so popular?

Some strange words may come up while on a safari for the first time. For example, what is the deal with all of the talk about "game"? In this scenario, the word "game" is referring to "wildlife." The phrases "game drive" and "game viewing" are also derived from this.

The Lion, Elephant, Leopard, Rhino and the Cape Buffalo make up the famous Big 5 in Africa.

Angola, Botswana, Zambia, Uganda, Namibia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Malawi are countries where all of these amazing animals can be found.

Why are they called the Big 5?

The Big 5 were the most difficult animals to hunt, according to hunters. These particular animals can be extremely dangerous, especially if wounded.

The term "Big 5" was coined during the reign of British hunters at the turn of the last century.

On a game drive, you may come across these amazing animals from the safety of the vehicle or, you may see them while out on a walking safari, so you don't have to be overly concerned when you are out with professional guide. However, they are not known for being cute and cuddly either so always be alert when around them.

Check out this short video to learn a little more about the Big 5 Africa!

The African Elephant

The African Elephant

The African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is a huge herbivore with thick, almost hairless skin; a lengthy, flexible, prehensile trunk; upper incisors with long, curved ivory tusks; and big fan-shaped ears.

There are two species of African elephant: the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana).

Elephants are difficult to stalk because, despite their immense size, they can easily conceal themselves in tall grass. Elephants and are more prone to attack than some of the the other Big Five animals. When their young ones are abused or their sight of the youngsters is obstructed, they can become enraged.

Elephants are dangerous, especially when wounded. They are still hunted illegally by poachers today, although the majority of them are now protected. You may frequently come close to these enormous animals on a safari. They're very mentally capable and have a sophisticated social structure. In many safari regions, they're one of the easiest members of the Big 5 to spot. Learn more about the African Elephant in this article here.

The African Lion

African Lion

The lion (Panthera leo) is a big, carnivorous feline that lives throughout Africa and northwest India. It has a short tawny coat with a tufted tail; and, in the male, a prominent mane around the neck and shoulders. Lions are sought after by hunters since hunting them presents a significant risk.

Lions have long been revered in our history and folklore for thousands of years. Lions were regarded as hazardous and to be feared by the colonial settlers and indigenous Africans. As a result, they were hunted with great intensity.

In many cultures, proving one's manhood included hunting a lion. The colonials armed with guns had an easier time of it of course.

There are now only about 20,000 lions remaining in the wild. They were once numerous but have been declining in number for decades. Today, they are mostly restricted to protected reserves where they survive. 

The Cape Buffalo

Cape Buffalo

The Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer), also known as the African buffalo or simply buffalo, is a large horned bovid. It is the only member of the Big 5 that isn't on the "endangered" or "threatened" list. The Cape buffalo is regarded by many people to be the most dangerous of all of the Big Five.

The name "black death" and "widow maker" are well-deserved, as they have claimed many human victims. This is due to their unpredictability and violent nature when injured or threatened.

While the males tend to live in smaller groups, the females congregate in herds that can number in the hundreds. They are one of Africa's most popular prey for Lions, although their sharp horns and powerful kicks allow them to harm or kill a lion in self-defense.

They can be readily observed from the safety of a safari vehicle, but if you go on a walking safari, keep an eye out for buffalo and follow the guide's advice.

The Black and White Rhino

The White Rhino

The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) is a huge herbivore with two upright horns on its nasal bridge. Its tough, protective skin is made up of collagen fibers strung together in a lattice structure that is almost impenetrable.

The Rhinoceros is often just referred to as Rhino. In Africa, there are two species of Rhino, the Black and White. A White Rhino is more likely to be seen on a safari than a Black Rhino.

The names are not based on the animals' actual colour, but rather in reference to the form of the animal's mouth, white is a mistranslation of Afrikaans word "wyd", pronounced "vait" - for wide.

The term "rhinoceros" refers to both the white and the black rhinoceros.

Because it is now severely endangered, hunting is only allowed under strictly controlled circumstances.

Over the last few centuries, rhinos have been hunted and poached for their horns. They are now endangered, having been hunted and poached for several generations. Poaching continues today because many individuals believe in the powers of its horn. 

The African Leopard

African Leopard

The African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) is a large, carnivorous cat with black or tawny fur and dark rosette-shaped markings.

The leopard is found throughout much of Africa, but due to their secretive nature and nocturnal habits, they may be one of the toughest of the Big Five to spot.

Because they have become more accustomed to the presence of people and vehicles in their habitat, seeing them on safari is a little simpler today.

In sub-Saharan Africa, they are most active at night and the optimum moment to view them is shortly before or after dawn.

Leopards are famous for their climbing ability and have been known to carry prey that is equivalent to their own weight into a tree out of the reach of other predators. Leopards are incredibly agile animals, especially in trees.

The Conservation Status of the Big 5

In recent years, Africa's Big Five have become major concerns for wildlife conservationists. The African lion and leopard are both classed as vulnerable.

As of 2021, the African savanna elephant is classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The southern white rhinoceros is listed as near threatened, whereas the black rhinoceros is considered to be critically threatened, thus hunting them has been restricted considerably.

The African buffalo is the most popular big five game animal to hunt, as it has a "least concern" conservation status, but numbers are declining in uncontrolled regions owing to poaching and urbanization.

Fun Facts about the Big 5 Africa

  • The lion's roar can be heard for approximately 3 miles (7 kilometers) away, making it one of the loudest sounds in nature.
  • Manes on male lions grow in length as they get older. These manes can reach a length of 16cm and are a sign of dominance. The darker their manes become, the older they get.
  • The African elephant is the planet's largest land animal, with males averaging 3 meters tall and weighing 6 tonnes.
  • Elephants have around 150,000 muscles in their trunk.
  • Male elephants reach their maximum size at 35-40 years, which is more than half of their natural lifetime as wild elephants can survive for up to 60-70 years.
  • Female rhinos are known as "cows," while males are referred to as "bulls." Their young are known as "calves" (not calves). 
  • Rhino horn is composed of keratin, the same protein that makes up our hair and nails.
  • Leopards are known for their nimbleness. They can run up to 58 kilometers per hour (36 mph) and leap 6 meters (20 feet) horizontally and 3 meters (10 feet) vertically. They are also excellent swimmers.
  • Leopards are incredibly strong. pound for pound, they are the most powerful of the big cats. This implies that if all of the other big cats were the same size and weight, the leopard would be the strongest.
  • It is unusual for buffalo to have twin calves. More hunters are killed by buffalo than by any other species of animal. Buffalo are excellent swimmers.
  • Buffalo's have smooth tongues

The Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is a great place to get a glimpse of the Big 5. Find out more about this incredible destination and all that it has to offer, here.

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